What Is Confidence in Aviation Safety Programs?
Confidence in aviation safety management systems (SMS) is trust that the SMS implementation fulfills its obligations. The obligations of SMS include, of course, safety. But they don’t just include safety. The fact is that aviation SMS implementations that set out to only satisfy good-looking safety data or regulatory compliance will plateau or even implode before long.
Aviation SMS implementations fulfill obligations by building:
- Comprehensive history of documentation;
- Policies and procedures that encompass most/all workings of SMS;
- Positive safety culture that reinforces safe behaviors;
- Informative safety data useful for predictive risk management activities;
- Proof of compliance; and
- Fact-based data reports demonstrating continuous improvement.
Confidence in aviation SMS implementations means that people (employees, customers, investors, etc.) trust that the SMS is addressing the above points.
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Confidence in SMS Is Quality Assurance
Ultimately, quality management for any aviation service provider cannot be successful without the success of the aviation SMS. This is because when serious safety incidents occur in the aviation industry, they tend to have disastrous effects in the company:
- For employee moral;
- For reputation (which is similar to financially); and
- For confidence in the efficacy of the SMS implementation.
So it’s also important to understand that confidence in the aviation SMS isn’t just about safety, it’s about Safety Quality Assurance and the success of all aspects of the organization.
Improve Confidence in Employees
Perhaps the most crucial area to improve confidence is with employees. After all, it is the employees who will ultimately determine the performance success of the SMS through:
- Hazard identification capabilities;
- Timely safety reporting activity;
- Practicing positive safety culture;
- Following prescribed policies, procedures, checklists, etc.; and
- Other quality safety behavior.
In short, employees are responsible for the first half of the safety risk management cycle. It’s also the half that risk management depends on – if there are no reported safety issues to manage, then subsequent risk management processes can’t happen.
Improving confidence in SMS implementations for employees should be considered in the following ways:
- Safety management teams should be interacting with employees regularly – there should be regular communication between safety management teams and employees;
- Safety management team needs to include employees in change management to instill the sense of "ownership," i.e., that the employees benefit from increased participation;
- Safety management team needs to listen and act upon the suggestions of employees (they need to feel that their opinions matter and management is receptive to understanding their needs); and
- Safety management team needs to make a sincere effort for creating quality aviation safety training and other safety promotional aspects.
Most of the points above revolve around safety communication and safety awareness. These two things can do more for inspiring confidence and developing strong safety cultures than just about anything else.
Related Aviation Safety Culture Articles
- What Is Safety Culture in Aviation Risk Management
- Examples How to Improve Safety Culture in Aviation SMS - with Resources
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Improve Upper Management's Confidence in Aviation SMS
Inspiring confidence in upper management is slightly more straightforward than employees because upper management may be much less “involved” in the SMS implementation. That being said, there should be a designated person in upper management who takes ownership of the program. In most parts of the world, this person will be called the "Accountable Executive."
For each SMS implementation, the accountable executive is responsible for:
- Making sure the SMS is properly implemented and performing across the entire organization;
- Regularly reviewing organizational safety performance; and
- Supervising necessary actions that address substandard safety performance.
Assuming this accountable executive (such as a CEO) is supportive, this person should want to see three primary things come out of the SMS implementation:
- SMS continues being implemented and meeting implementation deadlines;
- SMS is collecting and organizing safety data necessary to demonstrate continuous improvement; and
- Regulatory safety compliance is being met (no fines).
Basically, what we are talking about is that upper management cares that the aviation SMS is not a lame duck. In most cases, that would be a waste of financial resources, and a gateway into civil and public scrutiny (i.e., regulatory fines would probably make their way to the public). Notice that I said in "most cases." There are valid business cases for a "paper SMS" where the accountable executive is merely interested in "checking the SMS box."
Demonstrating that the SMS implementation is meeting the above points can be done through:
- Safety data, such as leading indicators and safety performance monitoring;
- Results of gap analysis or internal inspections; and
- With implementation plans.
Safety Confidence with Public Consumers
Besides price, public consumers really care about one thing most of all from aviation service providers:
This one element of aviation service providers is so important that a single accident in can result as much as 25% declines in business. In the case of Malaysian airlines, two crashes in a single year resulted in bankruptcy. The best way to summarize the relationship between aviation SMS and the public is that safety is the business stabilizer. When things are safe, business tends to be stable.
Demonstrating a secure safety track record can be a significant marketing and sales resource for aviation companies. It involves:
- Finding several statistics that “exemplify” the safety track record; and
- Making them extremely visible to the public.
Related Aviation SMS Articles
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- How SMS Benefits Airport Management
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Improve Investor Confidence in Safety Initiatives
Investors are important. Often when serious safety incidents occur, the most losses don’t come through loss in public consumer confidence, but due to loss of investor confidence. A historical precedent is that stock prices always take a dive after incidents.
Whereas a 20% loss of consumer business might cause marginal business losses, a 20% loss in stock prices could be worth ten-fold whatever losses occur from consumer business. The single best way to inspire confidence is:
- Show the return on investment for the aviation SMS implementation.
Return on investment is a powerful tool for inspiring investor confidence because:
- It shows fiscal responsibility and savviness on the part of the business;
- It’s proof that the SMS initiative is working; and
- It’s the kind of proof that “speaks the same language” as investors.
Confidence starts with safety performance monitoring.
You know how to inspire confidence. In order to improve and gain more confidence, you need to monitor risk management activities and safety performance. This guide will help you do that:
Published August 2019. Last updated in April 2021.